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Porter-Leath, SCS could jointly run Head Start

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. (FOX13) -

A search is underway for who will run the Head Start program in Shelby County after the county commission Monday passed on putting in a bid to run the program.

The program could be run by a coalition between nonprofit Porter-Leath Children's Center and the Shelby County Schools.
    
MORE: Shelby County to get out of Head Start
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MORE: How to enroll in Head Start Shelby County
MORE: Head Start Shelby County functions and services

Head Start, which began under President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s, was designed to give children in lower income families a step up before starting kindergarten.

Ten years ago in 2003, Shelby County took over the administration of the program locally. Monday's decision to pass on applying for a $23 million federal grant to continue the program leaves it up for grabs.

Dr. Doug Imig, a resident fellow with the Urban Child Institute, said it is crucial that Head Start continue and grow.

"Head Start is a fascinating environment," Dr. Imig said. "Kids learn to share, they learn to pass, they learn to say please and thank you. They learn to brush their teeth after a meal. They learn about storytime, all the things that give them the social and emotional things to help them step up to be ready for kindergarten, so they can become early readers and on the pathway to success.

Dr. Imig said the possibility that Porter-Leath and the school system have indicated they will bid on the grant is great news because they are already proven.

"Currently there are 2,500 slots in Head Start for three-year-olds and four-year-olds, and about 500 of those slots are in the schools," Dr. Imig said. "So Porter-Leath offers very high quality services in conjunction with Shelby County Schools offering high quality services. So it's important that we maintain that if not expand it."

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell agrees with Dr. Imig that the combination of Porter-Leath and the school system running Head Start jointly just makes sense because they are already doing it.

"I'm excited about the fact that it looks like we will have two strong applicants for Head Start," Mayor Luttrell said. "That's great because we have such a critical need in the community for Head Start, right now only meeting about a third of the need for Head Start in the community. If we can get the hands of people to expand it then it's going to be a win-win for us."

With the county's intentions of not running Head Start, 600 county employees could be laid off as a result. The hope with the 600 pending layoffs is that these employees will be hired on by whatever entity will take over the Head Start program.

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